US keeps up pitch: State Department official meets Marcos, Locsin

PRESIDENT-ELECT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and outgoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. met separately on Thursday with Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of the US State Department.

Sherman is the highest ranking US State Department official to visit Manila since the pandemic began in 2020.

“I was pleased to meet and congratulate President-elect Marcos. We discussed strengthening our longstanding alliance, expanding people-to-people ties, deepening our economic relationship, advancing human rights, and preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Sherman said.

Sherman is on a three-nation swing in Asia to build on the momentum from the Leaders’ Summit with Indo-Pacific leaders which US President Joe Biden initiated in May.

On Wednesday, she met her Japanese and South Korean counterparts in a trilateral meeting in Seoul. She will also visit Vietnam and Laos.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the American diplomat discussed with them “concrete ways to further enhance the relations amidst the Philippine government transition.”

“The Deputy Secretary and the President-Elect (Marcos) highlighted the importance of the US-Philippine Alliance to security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world and the importance of fostering respect for human rights and rule of law in the Philippines,” US State spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Sherman also met with Marcos’s advisors, including Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez and incoming Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez.

“The President-elect and Deputy Secretary agreed on the importance of partnering together to strengthen our economies, including the importance of public-private partnerships, clean energy and our digital economy,” Price added.

L-R: SFA Teodoro L. Locsin Jr, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman (DFA-OPCD Photo by Philip Fernandez)

Further details on Marcos’s meeting with Sherman were not immediately available, but her trip comes as part of a broader effort to reach out in person to leaders in the region as concern increases over China’s push to expand its own influence in a strategically critical area.

-R: DFA-OAA Principal Assistant Emile Josef B. Garcia, DFA-OAA Director Katrina Isabelle Borja-Martin, DFA-OAA Deputy Assistant Secretary Gunther Emil M. Sales, DFA-MOAO Assistant Secretary Maria Angela A. Ponce, DFA-OAA Assistant Secretary Jose Victor V. Chan-Gonzaga, DFA Undersecretary Ma. Theresa P. Lazaro, SFA Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Heather Variava, U.S. Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary Melissa Brown, U.S. Department of State Senior Advisor Josh Rubin, National Security Council Director Kathryn Paik (DFA-OPCD Photo by Philip Fernandez)

It includes the South China Sea, where the Philippines and Vietnam, among others, have squared off with China’s efforts to dominate the strategic waterway it claims virtually in its entirety. The US and its allies have responded with so-called freedom of navigation patrols, sometimes encountering a pushback from China’s military.

Australia protested after it said a Chinese fighter jet made dangerous maneuvers around one of its surveillance aircraft and forced it to return to its base last month. Beijing rejected the accusation. US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet is also in the region, meeting with officials in Thailand, Singapore and Brunei.

The State Department said the two trips highlight American commitment to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member regional bloc known as Asean, as well as Washington’s bilateral partnerships.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is also a featured speaker on the weekend at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier defense and security forum.

With a report by Associated Press

Image credits: Deputy Secretary of State